Walking as Identity – Tirana, Albania

Fish for sale, all silver and gleaming, piled up on a thin plastic sheet, on the pavement of the Bulevardi Bajram Curri.

All day it seems, I’ve been walking through the streets. When I leave Rruga Adzeni, cross the pedestrian bridge over the river and head up to the market area, it’s morning, it’s bright, the night has washed the air clean of grime and dust and the city sparkles. Up a straight incline, into a warren of small streets, Rruga Tefta Tashko, Rruga Beqir Luga, Rruga Musa Karapici, all dusty brown threads that wind and meander, like summer thoughts, half-reclining, evasive, following the lie of the land, and the lisp of the tongue, following the sun’s path, and the way the shade moves, when the wind alters its contours, just like leaves move, and dust shifts, like the rat circling round the garbage bins.

The streets follow corners the way roof tiles follow slopes. Old wooden awnings over windows lie at an angle, slatted, dark brown, with gaps where the thin wooden slats have rotted or fallen out. The sunlight catches the angles of awnings, and the shadows point on the walls, like spears. The walls are blotched, peeled, discoloured.

Old men in dark brown suits and white fezes, follow the corners of the narrow pathways, blending in with the brown of the earth and the pale brown of the walls. Some alleys are so narrow, the sunlight cannot reach them. The old men turn into the alleys and vanish. A whiff of jasmine blossom slips out of the darkness. Up by the market, there are smells of roasting meat and frying oil. A man with no legs pushes himself along the dusty pavement, with his hands.

The litter bins are set on elegant metalwork, but already some of the upright poles have been bent at an angle of 45 degrees, pulled away from the vertical, dragged towards the ground. Some of the bins are rusty – some are missing. The winter carried them off, or the river perhaps. The sunlight is tawny, not fierce, its claws sheathed, but flexing and shiny.

Near the clock-tower I walk across a flat expense of earth, with here and there a tuft of grass growing, emerald green against the brown. The area of earth is scattered with shiny puddles and most of what is not underwater is slicked with a film of mud. I negotiate the lakes and swampy areas and I feel briefly like a child, playing at explorers. The sunlight sparkles on the puddles. My sandal squelches between a puddle and a handful of grass. I look at my pale blue sandals, elegant suede, of delicate blue, and I want to laugh, for they are dust and grime-stained now and outlined with a piping of wet mud. I jump up onto a wall, to avoid a brown expanse of water, walk along the wall and jump down again.

I do not know who I am, as I step over fragments of patterned paving stones, the sunlight chopping all that it touches, slicing it up into brightness and shade. I am swept up with the rubble, and smoothed down with the dust. I am nothing, other than this. I am laughing and frightened. I am possibly only the words that I write. So I have to keep writing, as I have to keep moving, in sunlight, or out of it.

The clouds ring Dajti mountain like necklaces, blurring its slopes, revealing its peaks. In the evening, the sun swoops for the ocean and Dajti stands on its tiptoes, the scarves of the clouds like a lullaby, soothing and whispering. The sun’s gone now, but its fingers tap messages on my shoulders and neck.

I don’t know who I am, as I walk through these streets. I feel like a chink in a wall, stuffed with extravagant flowers. In the evening, the flowers droop and drop, one by one, from the gap that they filled.

A loosened soil. I could be that, as I walk through these streets. Something crumbling. Maybe a stone. Maybe, once part of a red-brick archway, like the one I saw on a muddy track between Bajram Curri and Myslym Shyri, with greenery dangling from the curve of its roof. Or the darkness the archway is covering. Tell me, I whisper to the sauntering streets, tell me who I am. My walking is waiting and listening, not walking at all.

Morelle Smith